Deion Branch is no stranger to winning when the lights shine bright throughout his football career, especially with the New England Patriots.

Branch won a pair of Super Bowls and played in another with the Patriots, including Super Bowl XXXIX, when he took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

In the latest chapter of his football life, Branch returned to his alma mater at Louisville, serving as the football program’s director of player development. During his first season back with the Cardinals in 2022, Louisville went 8-5 and secured a spot in the inaugural Fenway Bowl in Boston against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

That particular opponent made for an interesting scenario for Louisville. At the conclusion of the regular season, Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield departed from the program to take the top job at Cincinnati. In need of an interim coach, Louisville athletic director Josh Heird believed that Branch was the man to lead the Cardinals.

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“When it presented itself, I thought it was a little out of left field,” Branch told on Wednesday. “I respect the game and respect all the coaches. Being a part of that staff when Coach Satterfield elected to go to Cincinnati, that we had 10 amazing coaches on the staff that were left behind.”

When the offer first came up, Branch did not want to take an opportunity from the remaining assistants on staff who had poured tireless work into the program throughout the season.

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“The first thing that happened when Josh called and presented itself to me, I immediately said no,” Branch recalled. “Like I said, I respect the game and I respect the coaches. I felt like those guys were well equipped to assume that role moving forward, at least for that game.”

Several members of the program and athletic department laid out the short-term plan for Branch after he initially turned down the job. Branch changed his mind after that discussion.

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The 44-year-old also took family impact into context when deciding whether to step in as the interim head coach. Branch makes the nearly two-hour drive to campus multiple times per week during the season to maintain time with his family while handling his in-season duties. Branch’s youngest daughter was with him during Heird’s initial offer and pushed him to coach the Cardinals. That family support helped make the decision easier.

“After speaking to the staff, the administration, those guys told me their plan and the reason they didn’t want to go in that direction with one of the coaches on the staff,” Branch said. “I truly understood it then. It shifted things for me.”

For his first major coaching gig, doing so at the school that helped spark his career made the experience that much sweeter for the former two-time all-conference receiver.

“That was pretty much the icing on the cake,” Branch said. “Just thinking about all the players before me and after me. Attending that university, playing for the program and now actually getting to lead the team. This is amazing. On top of it, to seal the deal with a victory. It was super gratifying.”

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Once announced as the interim coach, Branch led the Cardinals up to Fenway Park, playing just 25 miles from Gillette Stadium, where he spent seven seasons playing some of his best football with the Patriots. In his latest experience, Branch made another big impact in one of America’s most famous ballparks.

“It was different,” Branch recalled. “How did it happen with me being director of player development, Coach Satterfield taking the job at Cincinnati and me being the interim coach to play a bowl game in Boston. It’s so crazy. All of this stuff is already written. This happened exactly how it was supposed to happen.”

As for the game itself, Louisville ran away with a 24-7 victory over Cincinnati, outgaining the Bearcats 419-127. With so many connections to Branch, the win marked the culmination of a remarkable few weeks in his football journey.

“I felt like the program knew that going up to Boston was going to be amazing for us,” Branch said. “Me coaching my alma mater and going back to the place where I was playing ball with the New England Patriots. This was everything. It only made sense. … I enjoyed it. It was truly an honor.”

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The experience of coaching at Louisville was unexpected. While he does not plan on returning to such a role anytime soon, Branch did share that he would love the chance to lead Louisville again down the road.

“Coach (Jeff) Brohm will be here forever, so I probably won’t get the opportunity to coach this team again,” Branch said. “But, hypothetically speaking, 10-15 years down the line from now. If I’m still around the program and Coach Brohm is tired, I would love to assume that role if I’m here.”

As for Branch and the Cardinals, No. 16 Louisville took on Southern California in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday. Back in Boston, the 2023 Fenway Bowl features the Boston College Eagles and the No. 17 Southern Methodist Mustangs.

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Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images